“For many of us, water simply flows from a faucet, and we think little about it beyond this point of contact. We have lost a sense of respect for the wild river, for the complex workings of a wetland, for the intricate web of life that water supports.”
— Sandra Postel, Last Oasis: Facing Water Scarcity, 2003
Connecting Communities to Nature
In the heart of the Los Angeles coast, between a busy international airport, dense commercial corridors, tourist-packed beaches and marinas, and quiet residential communities, there is a pause. A pause in the concrete landscape. A pause in the city’s hubbub. A pause in the form of a vast open space: a creek surrounded by flat, empty lands. A rare sight on our urban coast.
This Is the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve
The Ballona Wetlands were once a 2,000-acre expanse of marshes, mud flats, salt pans, and sand dunes that stretched from Playa del Rey to Venice and inland to the Baldwin Hills. Today, only approximately 600 acres of open space remain of the former wetlands. The land is owned by the State of California and comprises the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve.
The Reserve today looks very different from its past. A once-meandering Ballona Creek was cemented into a straight, concrete channel nearly 100 years ago. Most of the wetlands – once home to abundant fish and waterfowl – were filled in to build Marina del Rey in the 1960s. Invasive plants, or weeds, have taken over much of the Reserve, crowding out native plants and providing little sustenance for local wildlife. People used to come here to fish, hunt, swim and hike, but now, the Reserve is off-limits to the general public. After years of state budget cuts and no funding for management, illicit and damaging dumping of trash and encampments of homeless people are the most common uses of the Reserve today.
Bringing Back Coastal Wetlands in California
California’s coastal wetlands support a wealth of precious wildlife habitat and play a crucial role in improving coastal water quality and reducing the harmful effects of floods and erosion on surrounding communities. Today, more than 95% of Southern California’s wetlands have been lost due to human development – the largest loss of any region in the nation.
Rooted in years of scientific research and guided by community input, the Ballona Wetlands Restoration Project would revive critical wetland habitat and offer a remarkable natural space for the public’s use and enjoyment. Restoring natural functions to the Reserve could heal this damaged landscape and create a thriving wildlife reserve and unique community asset.
In 2003, the state of California acquired the Reserve from private landowners, ensuring the land would be protected for nature and people. The acquisition of the Reserve launched the planning for comprehensive restoration by the State of the newly-protected land, and the state sought out the advice of scores of experts to create a framework for its plan.
In 2004, the State installed a new tide gate that assists in flood control and improves water flow into the wetlands, allowing fish to make use of the wetlands and increasing tidal flushing. The State Coastal Conservancy also approved state bond funds to support the planning for bringing back natural wetlands functions at the nearly 600-acre Reserve.
In 2008, the State released a study that explored a range of feasible options for the Reserve that included public access and recreation features, including trails and overlooks, gateway entrances, interpretation stations, pedestrian bridges, bicycle parking, parking areas, boardwalks, vehicular pullouts and a visitor center.
At a time when public entities are finding it harder than ever to achieve their goals with limited resources, a new public-private partnership promises to focus efforts to address the continued degradation of the Ballona Wetlands. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), in partnership with the State Coastal Conservancy (SCC) and the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission (SMBRC), has spent years working with the public and envisioning a plan for the revitalization of the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve. Now, the Annenberg Foundation has joined with these partners, offering to enhance the state’s vision for conservation and stewardship of Ballona. All four partners are bonded in their commitment to a collaborative public process that can achieve what no single partner could achieve on its own.
After hearing of the state’s long-held vision to provide more access and new visitor opportunities at the Reserve, the Annenberg Foundation entered into a Memorandum of Understanding signed on January 28th, 2013, which proposes to enhance the state’s existing goal of establishing Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve as a thriving wildlife habitat and an outdoor education destination for local communities.